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How To/Pro-Tips

Next Year's Deer

At the end of the season, you may stow your bow and/or gun, but you should get ready for the most productive and important scouting of the year. Winter and early spring offer you incredible insight into deer and particularly into buck habitat and behavior that will help you next season. Working sort of backwards, go out immediately after the season and find the deer. This is the late-season place and pattern you were trying to puzzle out when the buzzer went off on this season. You'll know next year. Thin winter cover also gives you the best view of the general deer habitat. Trails, rubs and old scrapes are easily found and noted. Even if a particular buck met a bullet this season, a good breeding territory won't be vacant come next rut. The real payoff in winter/early spring scouting comes when you find big shed antlers. This buck didn't meet a bullet and now you know where he lives.

Video Strategies For Bucks

Deer-hunting videos are great sources of expert information on the "How-To" of successful buck hunting. However, some of the most important video information is conveyed by the deer themselves. Deer express themselves through the body language of posture and movement pattern. Ears up, flicking tail and a rigid, upright posture indicate suspicion. Snorting and foot-stamping by does indicates real alarm. Bucks are less demonstrative than does, but are much quicker to take decisive evasive action when disturbed. If a buck's subtle signs of alarm go unnoticed by the hunter waiting for a better shot, odds are good that the buck will sidle away, offering no shot at all. Watch the hunting videos critically. Note the bucks' postures and minute behaviors both when at ease and on alert. "Reading" buck body language tells you how much time you have to make the shot. For a "final exam," watch new videos for the first time with the audio "Off" and see if you can predict deer behavior.

Protect Button Bucks

A "button" buck is a male fawn in his first year. His "antlers" are little fuzz-covered knobs. He is next year's antlered buck and maybe a future trophy. It's easy enough not to bag a button buck during regular "buck" season. Then, legal game has visible antlers. But on so-called "doe days," when antlerless deer are being harvested for population control, many button bucks bite the dust. Button bucks are particularly vulnerable during the rut. Adult bucks drive the young males away from breeding does. The button buck wandering around on his own for the first time is pretty dumb. When harvesting antlerless deer, don't shoot solitary animals. Wait for a group of antlerless deer and take out the biggest one; this will be a mature doe. Invest in good binoculars of 8X or higher magnification and carefully examine the head of any "antlerless" deer for the small knobs of developing antlers. Protecting the buck fawns is the best step to better buck hunting in the future.

Follow Up Your Shot

Deer do not always fall or even give an indication of being hit at the shot. Always go to the spot the deer was standing and look for hair and blood sign. Some vital hits can go unnoticed. A heart-shot deer usually makes a mad dash of 50 to 75 yards. A lung-shot deer may run 200 yards. Both will be very dead when found. A hit through the heart/lung area produces pink, frothy blood. Bright red is muscle blood but it still may be a vital hit. Dark, brownish blood indicates a hit in the liver and/or paunch area. Hits in this area take some time to bring the deer down. Wait awhile before taking up the trail. Mark the blood trail with tissue paper so you can easily return to the last sign found. If the blood trail stops, circle and search the area thoroughly before giving up. While searching for a wounded deer, be ready to shoot quickly.

Shooting The Breeze

With big clearcuts, long powerline right-of-ways, wide agricultural fields and with many hunters hunting from elevated stands, long shots at whitetails are common. Hunters need to understand trajectory and wind drift to score at long range.

Wind can significantly drift a bullet. A 20 mph crosswind will move a 140-grain bullet at 2,800 fps 1 1/3 inches at 100 yards, 5 1/2 inches at 200 and over a foot at 300 yards!

Many reloading manuals provide precise wind drift charts. However, we seldom have a way to precisely measure wind velocity between our stand and the buck on the back edge of a clear-cut.

However, we should review the charts and roughly estimate the wind to make an educated "Kentucky windage" guess. Heavier bullets at higher velocities are affected less by the wind. This makes a fair case for certain magnum cartridges for long-range shooting. However, all bullets drift in the wind, even the magnums, and the smart shooter should take it into account.

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